The Rockets took care of business Wednesday night by beating Seattle 103-80, their 7th victory in a row over the Sonics.
Houston played without Tracy McGrady because of his sore shoulder. They say the soreness came from the injection he received before his last game to relieve the pain, but this should be the only game he misses because of it.
McGrady’s absence didn’t matter, though. As we have come to expect this season, the Rockets role players stepped up to beat an opponent they were expected to beat.
With the victory, Houston is now in a 3-way tie for second place in the West since Phoenix beat the Spurs in San Antonio!
Now the serious business begins with a monster set of games to close out the season: the Suns on Friday in Houston, then road games against Denver on Sunday, followed by Utah on Monday. Thank you, NBA schedulers, for forcing the Rockets to play 3 of their biggest games of the season in 4 days. That doesn’t even happen in the playoffs.
The Rockets then close out the season against the Clippers next Wednesday.
If the Rockets lose 2 or 3 of their remaining games and enter the playoffs without homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs, we could always give them a pass and say, “It’s okay. It’s so tough to win games against such great teams, especially without Yao.”
But we want more than just what is expected. We want to be surprised and pleased that they did what seemed to be the impossible – just like during that 22-game winning streak. It can all start Friday against Phoenix, who soundly beat the Spurs in San Antonio Wednesday night with a strong fourth quarter.
McGrady will play on Friday, but I’m worried about Shane Battier being ‘questionable’ because of a bruised foot.
But before we head into that killer stretch of games, let’s give credit to the guys who pulled this one out against the Sonics.
Rafer Alston had 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting, 5 assists and 2 steals. But he also had a whopping 6 turnovers. Luther Head got the start at shooting guard, and he came through with 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting, getting off to a hot start by making all 4 of his shots in the first quarter.
Steve Novak and Aaron Brooks got more minutes because of McGrady’s absence, and they came through, too. Novak hit 5-of-9 three-pointers and scored 17, while Brooks hit 3-of-5 treys and scored 11. The only down side to Brooks’ game was 4 turnovers, but with additional minutes, he’ll perfect that part of his game.
For some reason, I have a strong feeling that Novak and Brooks’ shooting will make a difference in the playoffs.
Luis Scola had 13 points and 12 rebounds, and actually had a throw-down dunk on a fast break in the second half, something that’s very unusual to see from Scola since he seems to score finesse baskets.
By the end of the first quarter it looked like the Rockets were going to be in for a battle when the Sonics went on a 16-2 run at the end of the first quarter to lead 26-21. But then Houston went on a 15-2 run themselves at the start of the second, thanks to Novak hitting a couple of threes in the quarter and one from Bobby Jackson (7 points overall on 3-of-10 shooting).
The Rockets would outscore the Sonics 25-11 in the second quarter to lead 46-37 at halftime, and Scola would inflict serious damage in the third quarter by scoring 10 points, getting a block, and dishing to Hayes and Alston for scores. Scola did everything in the quarter to help build a 75-59 lead entering the fourth quarter, and the Rockets would coast the rest of the way.
Backing up Scola in the power forward spot, Chuck Hayes and Carl Landry were efficient, combining for 6-of-7 shooting, 12 rebounds and 13 points. It’s good to keep those guys active since they’re going to be needed against the big bad Suns, Jazz and Nuggets.